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DeBoer excited on first day of camp

Saturday, 09.17.2011 / 6:37 PM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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DeBoer excited on first day of camp
DeBoer with assistant coach Adam Oates. (New Jersey Devils)
The opening of training camp has brought the fresh start the Devils have been looking for since last season’s disappointing finish.

Veterans took the ice for the first time Saturday, with new head coach Peter DeBoer leading the way.

“It was exciting, it was really exciting to have my first day with the group,” DeBoer said. “I was very happy with how excited they were to be out there, how good a shape they’re in and how receptive they are to a tough first day. We threw a lot at them today, and they were good.”

DeBoer was announced as Jacques Lemaire’s successor back on July 19. His top priority? Getting the Devils back to the playoffs following their first postseason miss since 1995-96. He has less than a week to put his system in place before Wednesday’s preseason opener against the Rangers in Albany.

He has received valuable help from the coach responsible for last year’s second-half surge, when the Devils climbed from last overall to within six points of eighth place.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” DeBoer said. “I sat with Jacques Lemaire and a lot of the stuff is similar, especially defensively. We want to put a little more pressure on the puck and try and create some more offense and put a little emphasis on the offensive zone, but not at the risk of our defensive game which is the identity of the club.”

Lemaire’s guidance has proven instrumental in preparing him for the job.

“He gave me insight on everybody,” DeBoer said. “He knows this group. I don’t think anyone knows the group as well as the guy that stands behind the bench and is on the ice with them on a daily basis, other than Lou, I’m sure. Jacques is a great insight into this group, having been here. He was kind enough to pass on all that stuff to me.”

Lemaire returned behind the bench last December, when the Devils were stuck in a 9-22-2 rut. It took him a month to put them back on a winning track, which is why DeBoer is hoping for a strong start.

“I don’t think you can pinpoint [what went wrong],” DeBoer said. “I watched a lot of tape, I talked to a lot of people. We’ve got three coaches on our staff that were here last year at the beginning of the season. They’ve all given me their opinion on what went wrong.

“I think if you coach long enough, you have slow starts. Sometimes it’s unexplainable, sometimes it’s two or three things that went wrong: timing, some bad goals, some guys off to some slow starts, slumps at the same time. A lot of those things. That’s ancient history. For me, it’s about us getting off to a good start and making sure that we’re in the hunt right from the beginning.”

DeBoer’s also banking on that second half carrying over into this season. The Devils open the regular season when they host Philadelphia on Oct. 8.

“The way this team played the second half, I think got rid of any of the confidence issues with being able to win games,” he said. “I think this is a confident group based on how they finished the season, and they’re excited to carry that into the start of this year.”

Saturday’s three practice sessions were short and uptempo.

“Not a lot of standing around,” Zach Parise said. “The drills were pretty high-paced. A lot of guys moving throughout the whole drill, so that’s good, and and not a lot of rest between drills, so your heart rate was up pretty much the whole time.”

Parise, who missed all but 13 games last season following knee surgery, is eager to put DeBoer’s plans in motion.

“I think it’s going to be pretty similar defensively,” he said. “From watching the video, it looks like we’re going to get more aggressive in different areas to try and make more turnovers and keep pucks in in the offensive zone and not back off so quickly. Try to get a little more pressure throughout the ice and play five guys in the offensive zone, get everyone involved and try to open things up a little bit.”

Parise skated the first morning session on a line centered by Patrik Elias with Dainius Zubrus on the right side. With Travis Zajac recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, Elias can expect to be the top center to start the season. Once primarily a left wing, Elias is versatile enough to flourish wherever he’s needed.

“It is a big loss for us, no question about it because of his responsibilities offensively and defensively, the way he plays, he’s going to be missed,” Elias said of Zajac. “But it’s an opportunity for other guys to step in and get a chance right from the get-go. We saw the way the young guys played last year when they stepped in. The coach has to trust them. They’re put in a situation where they have to prove they can play in those situations, and I think this is an exciting time for those guys.”

Coach's Quotes
DeBoer on Parise:
“He looks great to me. I don’t have a lot of history with him, so I don’t have comparables. But he looks 100 per cent. In talking to him, he feels great. He’s moving real well. He’s obviously a welcome addition back.”

DeBoer on playing an aggressive style:
“We’re not going to do it at the risk of defense, but you look at the stats and as a staff, we’d be crazy not to emphasize trying to get more pucks to the net and score some more goals. We were 28th to 30th in those areas last year. I don’t think you guys are hearing anything that any other coaching staff wouldn’t be emphasizing right now based on NHL stats last year.”